Vols listen when Monte speaks

Tennessee's football players hang on every word Monte Kiffin says ... even though they don't UNDERSTAND every word he says.

The Vols' 69-year-old defensive coordinator tends to run his words together, especially when he's got a fresh cup of caffeine-rich coffee coursing through his system.

"He loves that coffee," receiver Gerald Jones said, grinning broadly, "and it gets him ready."

It gets him so ready, in fact, that sometimes his mouth starts moving faster than the speed of sound. As a result, UT's players don't always recognize what he's saying.

"Not all the time," All-America safety Eric Berry said. "We kinda just nod our head and keep going. We know it's something good, so we just go with the flow. He's a very interesting guy."

Other players offer similar thoughts on the charismatic Vol aide.

"Monte's a funny dude," Jones said. "You really can't understand what he says until like the last two words. But I love it. I love every single bit of it."

With a grandfatherly appearance and the timing of a professional comedian, Kiffin comes across as a lovable guy. But he's also a high-energy coach who expects a lot of his troops. That's why he's eager to see them in full pads for the first time this evening.

"It's going to be exciting," he said. "We watched conditioning, but you've got to get on the field now."

Although speed is the key to Kiffin's defensive scheme, the Vols still must play assignment football in order to be effective.

"You have to control what you're doing; you can't just be running around out there," Kiffin said. "Our scheme is very important; we have to understand what we're doing. It's a whole new staff. We've got to know the players better and they've got to know us ... the whole bit."

Showcasing his dry sense of humor, the quick-witted coordinator added: "All of that said, you better hustle. I want 11 guys going to the football – not eight, not nine, not 10 ... not 12, because then we'll be in trouble."

Kiffin is widely respected as the originator of the so-called Tampa-2 defensive scheme. It helped the Tampa Bay Bucs win a Super Bowl, and now he's teaching it to Tennessee's players.

"I think they'll adjust," he said. "There are some similarities (to last year), although there's a whole new scheme. It'll take some time. We have to decide: How much can we do? I don't want to give them too much."

Giving the players too much too soon could force them to think, instead of react. That's the last thing Kiffin wants.

"I believe on defense you've got to play fast," he said. "We want to be the fastest defense we can be. We have to be careful how much we put in right away but we're not going to hold back when it comes time to play."

After two no-pads practices, Kiffin can hardly wait to see how Vol defenders look in full battle gear tonight.

"When it's really fun is when we get on that practice field and see players get better," he said. "I'm anxious to see what we really do when it comes to getting our scheme down, playing football and making a tackle.

"You still have to tackle," he added, flashing a smug grin. "I've seen a lot of guys who look like an All-American in shorts. Now can they do it with the pads on?"

That question will be answered tonight. If the Vols are crisply executing their assignments, Kiffin will know they've learned well. If they're nodding at him in the huddle ... well, it probably means they don't understand a word he's saying.

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